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Khan Academy

The focus of my research project is Khan Academy: a free, web-based

software that engages students from kindergarten to community college on subjects
such as science and math. I am researching this software because I am interesting
in flipping my classroom next year. Khan Academy is a leading software in flipped
learning; therefore, I am interested in the companys beginnings, how it has evolved
in education, and the research describing its strengths and weaknesses in the
Khan Academy was started by Salman Khan, who was born and raised in New
Orleans and went to college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After
graduating with a bachelors degree and receiving two masters from the university,
Khan pursued an MBA from the Harvard Business School. He began work as a
financial analyst in 2003. In 2004, one of Khans cousins was having trouble in Math
and wanted him to help her. He began tutoring his cousin by talking over the phone
and explaining questions on his computer using Yahoos Doodle Notepad (Khan
Academy, n.d.). Eventually, Khans cousin asked if he could just send her a video of
the math. This way, she could stop the video, pause, rewind, and watch it until she
understood. It would alleviate his energy of explaining things over and over, and it
would take the pressure off of her to understand the first time he explained it.
(Khan, 2011). Kahn started placing these videos on YouTube in 2006, where their
popularity exploded. He kept adding to their collection until 2009, when he left his
job as a financial analyst to focus on his own business, Khan Academy (Khan
Academy, n.d.).

With the rapid growth of his educational videos being watched around the
world, Khan decided that with so little effort on my own part, I can empower an
unlimited amount of people for all time. I cant imagine a better use of my time.
Despite the initial pay cut, Khans wife supported his decision, especially since his
influence was so large data analytics corroborated that students were learning
from his videos in rural Asia and China. Then, in 2010, Khan learned from a friend
that Bill Gates was talking about his children learning from Khan Academy at a
prestigious conference (Khan, 2011). A few weeks later, Google gave Khan Academy
$2 million to support the creation of more courses and to enable the company to
translate its videos into the worlds most spoken languages. A few weeks after that,
the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation provided Khan Academy with $1.5 million to
help the company grow as an organization (Salmon Khan, n.d.). With this amount
of money, this allowed Khan Academy to exponentially grow through the hiring of
personnel and expand its impact to the classroom.
Since then, Khan Academy added many subjects to their video library, a
plethora of practice problem sets, and had their resources translated into many
languages. Their biggest improvement that led to its adoption in the classroom was
in 2012. This is when the coach feature was added, allowing teachers to create
classes within the software and monitor individual student progress. Using the
dashboard option, teachers can look at each topic they have assigned and see
which students have started, not started, are proficient, need review, or are
struggling. Each student category is color coded, with the struggling students
colored red. This allows the teacher to focus his or her attention where it is needed
most. If the teacher is tied up assisting a group of students and another student
needs help, the teacher can use the dashboard to identify a student coach in the

class. This is done by identifying a student who is proficient, or is colored green,

with this particular skill and asking them to assist whoever needs help. In addition,
the dashboard allows teachers to see what videos students watched and where they
were paused and stopped. When doing practice exercises, the teacher, also, has the
ability to see the time it took students to answer each question and which ones they
got right or wrong (Khan, 2011). Consequently, the Khan Academy dashboard
reduces the hours teachers need to grade papers as well as provide them with data
analytics they would not normally be privy to. This made the software more
attractive and took Khan Academy to the next level in being utilized in the
Today, Khan Academys mission statement is to provide a free, world-class
education to anyone, anywhere. The website serves over 14 million unique users
per month, up from 144,000 in early 2010, and approximately 65% of them are in
the United States. The sheer volume of the websites traffic as well as its rapid
growth indicate the need and value for quality online instruction, especially in math
(Khan, n.d). It, also, represents the impact that the company has had on
education worldwide. With the amount of people using the software, the company
could easily make money by asking for monthly or year subscriptions; however,
Salmon Khan has promised that Khan Academy will always be a non-profit company
whose goal is to continually improve their free, worldwide educational software
(Khan, 2011).
KIPP schools, a successful charter school system that aims to raise the
student achievement of low-income families, recommends completing a series of
steps in order to successfully implement Khan Academy in the classroom. First, it is
necessary for everyone to have an email account. If a student does not have one,

they can easily set up an account with Gmail. Secondly, they suggest creating a
playlist of objectives that students need to complete (KIPP 2014). Within each
objective of the playlist, this is where teachers recommend resources like Khan
Academy videos and problem sets, online textbooks, and PDFs of teacher-created
worksheets. However, completion of this content is optional, as well as the order it
is used. Students should be able to work on whichever activities they find helpful,
selecting as many or as few as they need. Whenever students are ready, they are to
take a school-created test (which can be teacher-created or created by KA) on the
learning objective. When they have answered four out of five questions correctly,
they can move onto the next topic in the playlist (Research, 2014). The third
step is to create individual goals for each student based on their diagnostic test.
Based on these goals and progress within Khan Academy, the fourth step is for
teachers to create an investment plan that celebrate students success. This can be
done through visuals celebrating their accomplishments or opting out of lessons
they have already mastered. The fifth step is to designate fifteen minutes of class to
work on Khan Academy every day. This gets students in the habit of using it daily.
Finally, the last step is for teachers analyze data on the dashboard each night in
order to plan mini-conference with students the next day (KIPP, 2014). From my
experience of talking to teachers who have flipped their classrooms, their highest
recommendation is to create a successful playlist. While it does generate more
lesson planning for the teacher, giving students options and choice to choose the
order in which they learn creates investment in their education.
In 2010, the US Department of Education conducted a meta-analysis of
published studies that compared online learning with traditional learning. From their
research, they found that students who took all or part of their course online, on

average, performed better than those taking the same course through traditional
classroom instruction. In addition, student achievement was even higher when the
online resources were instructor-directed compared to when the learner worked
independently (Research, 2014). Khan Academy hopes to do just this: provide
resources that are instructor-directed engaging students through video and problem
sets, while freeing the teacher to focuses on small group instruction or where
remediation is needed.
During the research study, analysts, also, looked at mastery and personalized
learning within typical classroom instruction. Mastery learning is when students
must master an objective at 80% proficiency or higher to move onto the next topic.
Students who used this type of learning displayed increased gains in achievement
over students in traditionally-run classroom. They also retained what they had
learned for a longer period of time. Personalized learning is when teaching meets
the needs of each, individual learner. The defining characteristic of personalized
learning is self-pacing, or allowing the student to progress through the material at
his/her own pace. A meta-analysis of 75 comparative studies found that
personalized learning produces superior and less variation in student achievement
and higher student ratings in college courses (Research, 2014). Both mastery
and personalized are exercised and recommended when using Khan Academy.
Perhaps these two reasons have led to part of Khan Academys success with student
achievement, both in and outside of the classroom.
One of the biggest research studies that occurred with Khan Academy was in
conjunction with the Los Altos school district in California from 2011-2013. The
study sought to collaborate with the school districts students and teachers to
examine the strengths and weaknesses of the software and create a better product.

Twenty schools, 70 teachers, and over 2000 students were involved in the study. At
the nine research sites (some sites had multiple schools) where the study took
place, there was variation in how Khan Academy was implemented, which affected
what each site learned as a result of its experience (SRI). While this is the most
comprehensive research study on the software to date, one of the biggest goals of
this evaluation was to improve Khan Academy through close collaboration with the
Los Altos teachers. Therefore, it is hard for a research study to be objective when
they are working so closely with the company they are evaluating.
From analyzing the results of the study, researchers found two key factors in
facilitating the success of Khan Academys use in the classroom: the availability of
one-to-one access to computers within the classroom and having extra time for
math instruction. It was found, particularly with low-achieving students, that
successfully completing more Khan Academy problem sets led to higher math test
scores, reduced math anxiety, and higher confidence in their ability to do math.
When these factors were not facilitated, lower results in terms of student
satisfaction, engagement and achievement were reported (Research, 2014).
Teachers tried to find ways around this issue by using Khan Academy at one of their
stations during group work within class, however, Khan Academy works best when
all students are using the software under a Bring Your Own Device program or 1:1
From the studys results, students and teachers describe several benefits of
Khan Academy in the classroom. One of these is student engagement; 71% of
students report they enjoy using Khan Academy, and 32% of students say they like
math more since using the software. In addition, teachers say engagement is up:
87% of students were moderately or highly engaged when using Khan Academy. In

terms of student achievement, 85% of teachers reported the software had positively
affected their students learning and understanding of math. Teachers said the
softwares biggest benefit is its immediate feedback. Students can easily find
related resources, tutorials, or hints if they need help, or the teacher can see
specifically where students are struggling and focus remediation where it is needed.
Among all the participating teachers in the study, 86% of them would recommend
the software to other teachers, with 89% of them planning to use it with their
students next year (Research, 2014). With overwhelming positive results
pertaining to increased student engagement and achievement, research backs why
Khan Academys popularity continues to grow.
On the other hand, teachers, also, had some concerns. 66% of teachers said
that the lack of alignment between the softwares resources and their schools
curriculum impacted their ability to use Khan Academy effectively. Specifically,
teachers stated that content gaps existed in both the videos and problem sets
during the first year of study, but there were fewer problems during the second
year. Many teachers expressed difficulty finding videos and problem sets that were
relevant to the topics they were teaching. The biggest problem was finding these
topics at the appropriate skill level (Research, 2014). Finding good resources at
the right skill-level is one of the biggest issues when lesson planning with the
Internet. If a website continually fails in providing these resources, I move on to
something better. Khan Academy says they have improved their resource library
since this study, yet there is no research backing this claim.
Other opponents to Khan Academy have questioned Salmon Khans
pedagogy when it comes to creating his tutorial videos. In an interview with Time
Magazine, Khan says he does not use a script. In fact, he admits, I dont know what

Im going to say half the time (Ani, 2012). This can lead to uninformed and bad
teaching. For example, the Washington Post found that Salmon Kahn explained the
definition of slope as rise over run. The problem is that this is a simple definition of
slope that is true, but not the whole picture. In a simple coordinate plane, the slope
is found by counting the rise over run, but this does not include the units on a
graph. A full definition of slope is that it describes how two variables change in
relation to one another (Ani, 2012). Opponents argue that effective teaching is
incredibly complex that requires planning, reflection, and certainly more than two
minutes of research on Google. Salmon Khan states that when he records a video,
he records it all the way through, or starts completely over. He says this promotes a
relaxed, unedited environment that promotes student learning from video. If he
messes up, he does the entire thing over (Thompson, 2011). Others argue that
another weakness of Khan Academy is its uncreative, repetitive drilling. This type of
teaching is no different than from what students have been receiving for years, and
watching it through video takes away valuable interaction with other students and
teachers (Ani 2012). The problem with these opinions is that some educators and
researchers are seeing Khan Academy as a silver bullet in education. Khan Academy
would say they are just one tool to aid a teachers instruction. With this said,
teachers should supplement the software with conceptual-based instruction,
project-based learning, and exploratory activities. By taking away lectures and the
time to create worksheets, Khan Academy will, hopefully, allow time for these other
activities in the classroom.
The problem with the Los Altos school district study is that it was closely tied
to Khan Academy: the two sides were in close contact to make the software better.
This takes away from an objective perspective that a research evaluation should

have. Since Khan Academys birth, there has never been an unsolicited research
study on the effectiveness of the software in math classrooms. Due to Khan
Academys continual growth and far-reaching impact, the U.S. Department of
Education has planned a large-scale $3 million efficacy study to occur in 2015-2016.
The project will occur at 36 different California community colleges with four
instructors at each site. All of the instructors will be teaching college Algebra I. Half
of the instructors at each site will be assigned to teach with Khan Academy, while
the other half will be assigned to continue teaching as normal. One random, course
section per participating instructor will be selected for the study. Participating
instructors will be able to design their own blended learning environment so that
the study remains faithful to how teachers typically integrate Khan Academy into
their classrooms. Control teachers will continue teaching as if no research study is
occurring and can integrate any new resource into their instruction, except Khan
Academy. The research study will track students to determine if students using Khan
Academy are more likely to complete Algebra I and have higher achievement
scores. These factors will be measured by pass/fail status and students
performance on an elementary algebra diagnostic test (Schneider, 2014).
Researchers, also, hope to identify how teacher training, course structure, and other
factors affect student achievement and retention besides Khan Academy during the
research project. (Sparks, 2014). Results of this endeavor will give educators and
software enginners an inside, objective point of view into the strengths and
weaknesses of Khan Academy. It will be interesting to see what these analysts learn.
One of the biggest things I have been impressed with during my research of
Khan Academy is their commitment to learning from their weaknesses and
improving. Throughout the two-year study in Los Altos, Khan Academy was in

frequent contact with teachers in order to get feedback and improve their videos,
problem sets, and dashboard feature that displays student mastery of content.
Consequently, Khan Academy reorganized its math content into tutorials, which
contain related videos and problem sets that the teachers can use or modify to
support a specific topic. They also gave users the ability to slow down or fast
forward videos to make it easier to digest the content. In addition, Khan Academy
revised its teacher reports to provide more simplified, customizable summaries of
student data. These dashboard summaries can be seen at the student and class
level. (Research, 2014).
In order to further invest students, Khan Academy recently added game-like
rewards to the software. The companys software engineers came up with a
plethora of points, badges, and rewards that kids can vie for. Teachers have been
flabbergasted at not only how this motivates elementary students, but even high
school and community college students. One teacher commented that one of her
troubled students has done over 500 multiplication problems recently. He would
have never done this amount of work before. In addition, she also learned from her
dashboard that the other night a student had worked on problems at home from
midnight to 2AM (Thompson, 2014). This commitment to improving their product in
hopes of raising student engagement and achievement is what, I believe, makes
Khan Academy stand out among its competitors. In terms of the U.S. Department of
Education research study into the effectiveness of Khan Academy, the company
knows they have weaknesses. I believe they will see this study as an opportunity to
learn from and improve. This commitment to excellence is why I am still interested
in using Khan Academy for flipped learning, and why their influence continues to
grow worldwide and into classrooms today.

Works Cited
(2014, March). Research on the use of khan academy in schools. Retrieved from SRI
Ani, K. K. (2012, July 23). Khan academy: The hype and the reality. Retrieved from
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Khan Academy (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 19, 2015 from
Khan, S. (2011, March). Salmon Khan: Lets use video to reinvent education. [Video
file]. Retrieved
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KIPP New Jersey. (2014, February 13). How to teach math with khan academy.
[Video file].
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Kronholz, J. (Spring 2012) Can khan move the bell curve to the right? Education
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(n.d.) Resource Foundations. Retrieved from Khan Academy website:
Salmon Khan (educator). (n.d). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 19, 2015 from
Schneider, S. (2014). Khan academy resources for maximizing mathematics
achievement: A
postsecondary mathematics efficacy study. Retrieved from Institute of
Education Sciences
Sparks, S. (2014, July 11). Education department launches $3 million evaluation of
khan academy.
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Thompson, C. (2011, July 15). How khan academy is changing the rules of
education. Retrieved from
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